Power density is the rate of energy generation per unit of land surface area occupied by an energy system. The power density of low-carbon energy sources will play an important role in mediating the environmental consequences of energy system decarbonization as the world transitions away from high power-density fossil fuels. All else equal, lower power densities mean larger land and environmental footprints. The power density of solar and wind power remain surprisingly uncertain: estimates of realizable generation rates per unit area for wind and solar power span 0.3–47 We m−2 and 10–120 We m−2 respectively. We refine this range using US data from 1990–2016. We estimate wind power density from primary data, and solar power density from primary plant-level data and prior datasets on capacity density.
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